Capitol Alert

LeBron James wants college athletes to get paid. Will California pass a law to make it happen?

King James is throwing his might behind a California bill that would pave the way for college athletes to get paid.

NBA superstar LeBron James gave a major boost to a proposed law that would allow students to get paid for their name, image and likeness. James considers it a “GAME CHANGER.”

“College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create,” James wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, urging his followers to call California lawmakers to express their support of the measure.

Former Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant also shared James’ post.

The bill from state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would allow athletes to hire agents and make money off their name, image, likeness or athletic reputation without fear of losing an athletic scholarship.

Her plan is receiving heavy opposition from the NCAA — the body that governs college sports. NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote a letter in July warning the state that it could lose the ability to host national sports championships.

“The bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships,” Emmert wrote. “As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”

Skinner has been open to modifying parts of her bill, though.

The proposal was amended this week to prevent potential conflicts between team contracts and contracts individual athletes are offered. For example, if a college football team has a contract with Nike requiring players to wear the company’s shoes on the field, a player cannot accept a deal from a rival brand like Adidas.

The NCAA announced in May it has formed a “NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group” to examine name, image and likeness benefits. According to an NCAA announcement, the group’s work “will not result in paying students as employees.” Additionally, the working group would not even consider “any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports.”

Skinner criticized the “absurdity of the NCAA rules” and said the organization “has a long history of creating commissions or working groups to look at issues, and then they ignore their commission’s recommendations.”

Following a 2017 FBI investigation into men’s college basketball that led to the arrests of 10 people, the NCAA announced the formation an “Independent Commission on College Basketball” led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In an April 2018 report, Rice made a strong case for allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

“The NCAA basically went radio silent after her recommendation went out,” Skinner said. “The absurdity of the NCAA rules make it so you can be on a swim team of a Division 1 college but you can’t even teach swim lessons.”

Emmert advised lawmakers to wait until a final report comes out in October, which would effectively kill Skinner’s proposal for the year because of the state’s Sept. 13 deadline to send bills to Gov. Gavin Newsom. If passed and signed by Newsom, it would go into effect in 2023. An update on the NCAA report was supposed to be given in August, according to the group’s May announcement.

The Pac-12 Conference is urging lawmakers to postpone their vote and wait for the outcome of the NCAA’s work.

“We all want to protect and support our student-athletes, and the Pac-12 has played a leadership role in national reforms for student-athletes over the past years,” the conference said in a statement. “The question is what’s the best way to continue to support our student-athletes. We think having more information and informed views will be helpful.”

Some educational groups are also opposed to the bill.

Toni Molle, director of public affairs for California State University’s chancellor’s office, said in a statement, “The CSU opposes SB 206 for two reasons. First, should the bill pass, it could result in CSU student-athletes being barred from competing, or ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Additionally, those same student-athletes would still be on scholarship though they could be ineligible to complete, taking away the opportunity from another student athlete to receive a scholarship or compete.”

Skinner expects the Assembly to vote on her plan early next week. It would then need to return to the Senate by the end of the week. Newsom would have until Oct. 13 to sign it. She said she’s kept Newsom’s office up to date on the bill but has not received word about his attitudes on the issue.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the governor’s thoughts on paying college athletes.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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